Part 5

May 31, 1945 - June 6, 1945

The following are excerpts from Sec. of War Henry Stimson's diary and papers that have relevance to the atomic bombing of Japan. This is by no means a complete collection of such references from Stimson's diary and papers. These excerpts are published here with the authorization of the Yale University Library. The diary and papers can be found in the Henry Lewis Stimson Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, New Haven, Conn. The diary and papers can also be found in the Library of Congress, Washington, DC and in the Center For Research Libraries, Chicago, IL.

For information about the prior Henry Stimson diary and papers, click Stimson Diary and Papers, Part 1.

[I have included some explanatory and contextual comments for the excerpts. My writing is in brackets and italics, as I have done with this paragraph.]


[On May 31, 1945 at 10:00 a.m. Stimson's Interim Committee met with the Scientific Panel, which was their scientific advisory group. Among other things, Stimson spoke of his feelings about the atomic bomb.]

May 31, 1945 Diary Entry:

"I got down to the Department [of War] quite early at eight-forty and had a talk with George Harrison and General Marshall before the meeting called for the Interim Committee of S-1, and I prepared for the meeting as carefully as I could because on me fell the job of opening it and telling them what it was and telling what we expected of these scientists in getting them started and talking. The following is a list of the people present:

"Interim Committee: Under Secretary of the Navy [Ralph] Bard, Assistant Secretary of State [William] Clayton, [former Supreme Court] Justice [James] Byrnes, Drs. [Vannevar] Bush, [James] Conant, and [Karl] Compton of the OSRD [Office of Scientific Research and Development], and George Harrison. Invited scientists [the Scientific Panel]: Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer of the University of California, Dr. Enrico Fermi of Columbia University, Dr. Ernest O. Lawrence of the University of California, and Dr. Arthur H. Compton of the University of Chicago. By invitation: Generals [George] Marshall and [Leslie] Groves, Harvey Bundy and Arthur Page [Bundy and Page were assistants to Stimson]. Secretary of the Interim Committee, Lieutenant R. Gordon Arneson."

"I told the invited scientists who the Committee was, the Interim Committee, what it was established for, and then I switched over and told them what we wanted of them, the invited scientists; first, to congratulate and thank them for what they have done and then to get them started in talking and questioning. It was a little slow sledding at first but I think I got some wrinkles out of their heads in regard to my own attitude and that of the Army towards this new project. I told them that we did not regard it as a new weapon merely but as a revolutionary change in the relations of man to the universe and that we wanted to take advantage of this; that the project might even mean the doom of civilization or it might mean the perfection of civilization; that it might be a Frankenstein which would eat us up or it might be a project 'by which the peace of the world would be helped in becoming secure'. Well after a while the talk went pretty well. I had Marshall in and during a time when I had to be absent to go over to the White House he took a vigorous hand in the discussion and I think impressed himself very much upon them. I think we made an impression upon the scientists that we were looking at this like statesmen and not like merely soldiers anxious to win the war at any cost. On the other hand, they were a fine lot of men as can be seen from their records. Dr. Fermi, Dr. Lawrence, and Dr. Compton were all Nobel prize winners; and Dr. Oppenheimer, though not a Nobel prize winner, was really one of the best of the lot."

"After an hour and a half I had to leave and Bard had to leave to go over to the White House where there was a ceremony in the shape of the President giving to Mrs. Frank Knox the Medal for Merit which has been given posthumously to Frank." [Frank Knox had been the Sec. of the Navy. Knox died on April 28, 1944].

"After it was over Mabel [Stimson's wife] went up to the luncheon which was given by Bard for the ladies and I returned to the Pentagon Building, and after another forty-five minutes we went upstairs to lunch with the same [Interim Committee] crowd. When I got back I found them still in the course of argument - all hard at work at it and I plunged in, and at one-twenty we went up to luncheon and continued the talk up there so that I didn't get away until three-thirty -- a pretty full day. I had started out the day feeling bum after a bad night [Stimson sometimes suffered from insomnia] but I got worked up and, as always happens when you are interested in something, I threw off my lethargy and had the feeling that I had helped make the occasion a success. Marshall was very enthusiastic about it when I went in to see him afterwards. He said it was a fine lot of men and he thought the occasion had done a lot of good and that seemed to be the opinion of all of them."

[That concludes Sec. Stimson's May 31 diary comments on the Interim Committee. But to give a little more information about what went on at that day's meeting, I've added the following commentary:]

[During the May 31 Interim Committee meeting, James Byrnes argued against suggestions by Oppenheimer and Marshall that the U.S. begin discussions with the Soviet Union on the atomic bomb for the purpose of international control of nuclear weapons. Instead, Byrnes won agreement on the following:]

[The agreement against telling Russia of the atomic bomb would be reversed at the June 21, 1945 Interim Committee meeting.]

[Altho the purpose of the Committee as stated by Stimson at this meeting was "to make recommendations on temporary war-time controls, public announcement, legislation and post-war organization", there was some discussion of how the atomic bomb might be used on Japan. Scientific Panel member Arthur Compton later wrote that during the May 31st meeting "it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the bomb would be used" (Arthur Compton, "Atomic Quest", pg. 238). The Interim Committee came to the following agreement that day:]

[A complete copy of the May 31, 1945 Interim Committee meeting notes can be found on the Nuclear Files Archive web site at: May 31, 1945 Interim Committee Notes.]

June 1, 1945 Diary Entry:

"George Harrison and [Harvey] Bundy brought me in the papers preparatory for the meeting that was coming this morning of the Interim Committee of S-1 with four of the important industrialists." [who would be building the fissionable material production plants for the Manhattan Project].

"Then I had in General [Henry "Hap"] Arnold [commander of the Army Air Force; the Air Force was still part of the Army at this time] and discussed with him the bombing of the B-29's in Japan. I told him of my promise from [Assistant Sec. of War for Air Robert] Lovett that there would be only precision bombing in Japan and that the press yesterday had indicated a bombing of Tokyo which was very far from that [U.S. B-29s had heavily bombed Tokyo on the nights of May 23-24 and 25-26, 1945. It appears from this statement in Sec. Stimson's diary that he found out about that when he read it in the newspaper]. I wanted to know what the facts were. He told me that the Air Force was up against the difficult situation arising out of the fact that Japan, unlike Germany, had not concentrated her industries and that on the contrary they were scattered out and were small and closely connected in site with the houses of their employees; that thus it was practically impossible to destroy the war output of Japan without doing more damage to civilians connected with the output than in Europe. He told me, however, that they were trying to keep it down as far as possible. I told him there was one city that they must not bomb without my permission and that was Kyoto."

[Altho Kyoto was the atomic bomb Target Committee's number one target choice, Stimson did not want Kyoto bombed because that former capital city of Japan was now a Japanese cultural and religious center. He felt that bombing Kyoto would increase the likelihood that Japan would be driven into Russia's arms after the war.]

"I called up Mr. Matthew Connelly [President Truman's Appointments Secretary] and told him that I thought that Justice Byrnes was proving a very valuable member of the Interim Committee on S-1 and was spending a great deal of time on the matter with long travel expenses and should get compensation for his services. Most of the other members of the Committee are already in a position of being government servants and receive compensation. Connelly at once agreed that Justice Byrnes should receive compensation and told me that he could get it for him from the White House funds and would do so." [Byrnes had been highly influential at the May 31st Interim Committee meeting.]

"At eleven o'clock I held the meeting of the Interim Committee and the industrialists. The following persons were present: Interim Committee: Byrnes, Bard, Clayton, Bush, Conant, Compton, Harrison; invited industrialists: Walter S. Carpenter, Jr., President of Dupont; George H. Bucher, President of Westinghouse Electric; James White, President of the Tennessee Eastman Corporation; and James Rafferty, Vice-President of the Union Carbide Co.; by invitation: General Marshall, General Groves, Bundy, Arthur Page, and Lieutenant Arneson."

"The meeting had a similar purpose to the one which the Committee held with the scientists, namely to show our appreciation of their services to the gentlemen who were invited and to discuss with them various questions relating to postwar control of S-1 and the length of time which it would probably take to duplicate the industrial plans which were working on it. The discussion was continued at luncheon in the private dining room and afterwards, I leaving at about one-thirty to go to the Cabinet meeting."

[The following Interim Committee notes give more information on the above paragraph:]

[A complete copy of the June 1, 1945 Interim Committee meeting notes can be found on the Nuclear Files Archive web site at: June 1, 1945 Interim Committee Notes.]

[Returning to Sec. Stimson's diary:] "The Cabinet meeting only lasted half an hour. I returned to the Pentagon, attending to certain executive matters and having another physical examination by General Kirk and Major Robb." [Stimson suffered from a heart condition, insomnia, and exhaustion.]

I also had a talk with General [Thomas T.] Handy [Army Deputy Chief of Staff; Gen. Marshall's top assistant] on the subject of unconditional surrender and handed him the paper which Mr. Hoover had sent me on the possibility of shortening the war and the losses if a fight to a finish could be avoided." [Herbert Hoover had written a paper entitled "Memorandum on Ending the Japanese War". (Timothy Walch and Dwight M. Miller, "Herbert Hoover and Harry S. Truman: A Documentary History", pg. 50 - 53).]

June 6, 1945 Diary Entry:

[On June 6 Stimson met with President Truman. After discussing a problem regarding France that Stimson felt needed immediate attention, Stimson told Truman of the Interim Committee's recommendations:]

"I then took up the matters on my agenda, telling him [Truman] first of the work of the Interim Committee meetings last week. He said that Byrnes had reported to him already about it [after the June 1 meeting Byrnes had met with Truman and Stimson had left for a much needed rest at his farm] and that Byrnes seemed to be highly pleased with what had been done. I then said that the points of agreement and views arrived at were substantially as follows:

"That there should be no revelation to Russia or anyone else of our work in S-1 until the first bomb had been successfully laid on Japan."

"That the greatest complication was what might happen at the meeting of the Big Three [the upcoming Potsdam Conference meeting of the U.S., Britain, and the Soviet Union]. He [Truman] told me he had postponed that until the 15th of July on purpose to give us more time. I pointed out that there might still be delay [of the atomic bomb test] and if there was and the Russians should bring up the subject and ask us to take them in as partners, I thought that our attitude was to do just what the Russians had done to us, namely to make the simple statement that as yet we were not quite ready to do it."

"I told him that the only suggestion which our Committee had been able to give as to future control of the situation was that each country should promise to make public all work that was being done on this subject and that an international committee of control should be constituted with full power of inspection of all countries to see whether this promise was being carried out. I said I recognized that this was imperfect and might not be assented to by Russia, but that in that case we were far enough ahead of the game to be able to accumulate enough material to serve as insurance against being caught helpless."

"I said that of course no disclosure of the work should be made to anyone until all such promises of control were made and established. We then also discussed further quid pro quos which should be established in consideration for our taking them [the Soviet Union] into partnership. He said he had been thinking of that and mentioned the same things that I was thinking of, namely the settlement of the Polish, Rumanian, Yugoslavian, and Manchurian problems.

"He then asked me if I had heard of the accomplishment which Harry Hopkins had made in Moscow and when I said I had not he told me there was a promise in writing by Stalin that Manchuria should remain fully Chinese except for a ninety-nine year lease of Port Arthur and the settlement of Dairen which we had hold of. [Hopkins, who was an advisor to President Truman, met with Stalin from May 26, 1945 thru June 6, 1945.] I warned him that with the fifty-fifty control of the railways running across Manchuria, Russia would still be likely to outweigh the Chinese in actual power in that country. He said he realized that but the promise was perfectly clear and distinct."

"I told him that I was busy considering our conduct of the war against Japan and I told him how I was trying to hold the Air Force down to precision bombing [of military/industrial targets, rather than civilians] but that with the Japanese method of scattering its manufacture it was rather difficult to prevent area bombing. I told him I was anxious about this feature of the war for two reasons: first, because I did not want to have the United States get the reputation of outdoing Hitler in atrocities; and second, I was a little fearful that before we could get ready the Air Force might have Japan so thoroughly bombed out that the new weapon [the atomic bomb] would not have a fair background to show its strength. He laughed and said he understood. Owing to the shortness of time I did not get through any further matters on my agenda."

"I went home to lunch and then returned to the [War] Department. During the morning I had called up Mr. Connelly [Matthew Connelly, President Truman's Appointments Secretary] at the White House asking him to tell the President that I proposed to see Senator McKellar [Senator Kenneth McKellar of Tennessee, who was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and was Senate President Pro-Tempore] with a view to sending a parcel of Senators to see the installation at Clinton, Tennessee [actually, it was the Clinton Engineer Works plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The plant separated the more fissionable U-235 from U-238.], and asking whether he, the President, saw any objection to it. Connelly brought me word that he fully approved. I then went up to the Hill and called on Senator McKellar, told him of my errand, gave him an outline of what he would see, and asked him to suggest his companion Senators to go with him. He suggested [Senator Carl] Hayden and [Senator Wallace] White as the respective top men of his committee. I asked whether it would not be well to take also Senator [Alben] Barkley, his leader of the [Senate Democratic] majority, and he agreed. I told him that I wanted to have him assume the responsibility of selection for otherwise they would think I hand picked them. He agreed and said he would think it over and let me know. He was afraid that he could not go himself until July. I then asked him whether we would not need the help of these men when the appropriation [for the expenses of the still-secret Manhattan Project] came up before the Committee and the Senate, and he said that would be all right he was sure. He seemed to have no fear about the passage of the appropriation. I left that as it was but I am a little uneasy and may take it up again and see if the other Senators won't want to go before the bill comes up."

To continue reading Henry Stimson's diary and papers, click Part 6.

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